Britain should take responsibility for her oldest OT
My love for Bermuda is the motivating factor in writing this, as I wish only to offer a humble suggestion as to how our leaders can mitigate the damage from the storm that awaits.
We are a resilient people. We have been blessed that Covid-19 hasn't affected us yet. We have lived through disaster time and again, and we will survive the effects of Covid-19. But we must treat it like a Category 5 hurricane.
We have to prepare ourselves. Our future as a country depends on it. We need only look at South Korea, Italy and the United States as a warning for inaction.
Covid-19, or coronavirus as we otherwise call it, is not the flu. It is ten to 20 times deadlier than the flu, and we don't know the full extent of damage this respiratory illness does to our lungs and organs.
Let us look at Italy, which unfortunately was forced into unprecedented action because it wasn't properly prepared to handle the exponential increase in patients resulting from this extremely adaptive and infectious virus.
Italy's mortality rate from Covid-19 is hovering near 8 per cent, whereas the global mortality rate is about 2 per cent to 3 per cent, depending on your source (World Health Organisation or Johns Hopkins University).
Italy's rate is so high as a result of their ageing population. Italy has the oldest population in Europe, with about 23 per cent of residents 65 or older, according to The New York Times. Like Italy, almost 20 per cent of our population is 65 or older. Covid-19 is especially dangerous for those over 60, or people with compromised immune systems or underlying cardiovascular or respiratory issues.
Twenty per cent of Bermuda's population is at serious risk; that's approximately 13,000 people.
So what needs to be done? We must look at countries who have done well to “flatten the curve” of infection and mitigate disaster. We have to learn what they've learnt, and quickly.
In the words of New York Times science and health reporter Donald McNeil, who did extensive reporting on the work the Chinese Government did to get the outbreak in Wuhan under control, “Testing. Testing. Testing. Testing. Find the virus ... If you go into any building, your temperature is taken.”
Bermuda needs testing kits and the capacity to find the virus. The Government is working on getting testing kits, which is great, but we needed them last week. We need to be able to test, isolate and treat individuals with the virus. I'm not sure we have the capacity right now to treat more than 50 people with the virus.
If we don't find the virus, and test people who are suspected, it will get out of control quickly. Italy went from ten deaths to more than 2,000 deaths in fewer than 20 days. The problem of finding the virus and detecting how it is transmitted is that many people, especially younger ones, do not present any symptoms once they become infected, even though they are themselves contagious and infecting others who may be more vulnerable.
Once Bermuda has the capacity to test, we need to be able to isolate people. But in Bermuda, many families have grandparents and great-grandparents in the home, or next door, or being taken care of in an apartment near by. We cannot send people to isolate at home because that puts their family at increased risk.
In China they found that the outbreak was spreading in clusters primarily related to transmission between family members. We require a secure area to treat and isolate people in a way that doesn't risk infecting others.
I propose building field hospitals at the National Sports Centre, Somerset Cricket Club and St George's Cricket Club — at a minimum — where we can test, diagnose and isolate those suspected of having the virus without endangering other people.
How will we build field hospitals? The Bermuda Constitution Order 1968 confers powers upon the Governor, with respect to certain aspects of the functioning of the Government of Bermuda, which states in section 62 of the Constitution:
“The Governor, acting in his discretion, shall be responsible for the conduct (subject to the provisions of this Constitution and of any other law) of any business of the Government, including the administration of any department of government, with respect to the following matters — external affairs; defence, including armed forces; internal security; the police.”
I believe it necessary to utilise the power of the Governor to assist with the internal security of Bermuda owing to the impending health disaster. The Governor needs to request immediate assistance from the British Government to provide Bermuda with the necessary expertise and medical equipment to handle an outbreak of Covid-19 in Bermuda.
Britain needs to take responsibility for the wellbeing of one of their Overseas Territories during this time of crisis. Bermuda requires more doctors experienced in epidemiology and pandemic response. We need more nurses, and the proper facilities to tackle the challenges ahead. We should not have to rely on the business community to source goods and equipment necessary to maintain our survival.
The British Government should treat Bermuda like a small British town. We don't require the same resources that places such as London, Birmingham or even Leicester require. But we do need hundreds of respirators, thousands of testing kits, medical supplies and disinfectant supplies — and fast.
Not only do we need to build field hospitals, but we need to create protocols for how to shut down business and public space for weeks or months at a time while maintaining the dignity of families who rely on their income for survival. I propose a monthly minimum income for every household — or adult in the house — in Bermuda of between $3,000 and $5,000 so that families can afford living expenses if we need to shut down businesses. Which I suggest should be done.
The calculus should not be how much all of this will cost now, but what the cost will be if we do not take these steps. We may find in three weeks that these proposals are totally reasonable compared with the necessary measures we have to take once in a crisis.
I pray Bermuda never reaches that point. We need to tackle this impending crisis head-on with the full might of our resilience and ingenuity. I know we are up to the task.
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• Husayn Symonds is a father of twin girls, a writer and a Bermudian with the wellbeing of his country's residents in his heart